Education is witnessing an apparent replication of the ideas of the nationalist education movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But borrowed history works only for a while, as an examination of the evidence on that movement and sanskari supremaci
MANY people who like to believe that they are true blue nationalists, Rabindranath Tagore writes in 1917, nurse the delusion that they are inheritors and successors of that political tradition. Such people are in the habit of “borrowing other people’s history”. They are compelled to invent a tradition, Tagore said, because of the fact that Europe possessed a history of nationmaking while many Asian countries did not in the beginning of the 20th century. When Tagore argued thus, he was on a lecture tour in the United States and Japan; his audiences were in the middle of a war between nations, the First World War, and they regarded Tagore’s message as antinationalist propaganda to destroy people’s morale.
One rather amusing aspect of this episode was that the idealist in Tagore failed to see that the very purpose of organising the lecture tour was defeated, since the lectures were too unpopular, tickets did not sell, and led to a huge loss. But while it was a loss to his fund-raising project, the world gained a classic philosophical tract, Nationalism (1917).
The reason why we recollect this episode today is that, as in Tagore’s times, we are witnessing once again transactions in “borrowed history”. This time again the borrower is in search of ancestry that will confer credibility. A new view is on the rise that the true successors of the nationalists of the 19th century are some new claimants to their mantle.
One can instantiate this tendency with the latest examples. On March 25 and 26, about 700 persons representing educational institutions—ranging from gurukul schools to universities—assembled at a conference near Delhi convened by the Prajna Pravah.
This body, modestly calling itself “Gyan Sangam”, declared as its objective “decolonisation” of education. The organisers showed some degree of maturity and self-confidence in that they did not try to gain strength from participants brought from the Ministry of Human Resource Development and various departments of the government. Instead, these conferences draw support from the India Policy Foundation, and various “think tanks”.
What was the ideological point being made in that elaborate exercise and how does that relate with longrange policy thinking? The point, it was declared, was to put forward an agenda for the “decolonisation of learning”, that is, to overcome the colonial legacy of ideas, and to combat aggressively the mindset that looks down disrespectfully upon Indian culture even to this day, decades after attainment of political independence.
This line of thinking can be traced back to the battles fought earlier at sites familiar to readers of the Organiser or Panchjanya. The foremost issue is the medium of instruction in schools. A German observer, Maria Wirth, and her Indian colleagues have been writing profusely, and convincingly at times, on the “colonial hangover of English medium education”. Wirth points to the advantage enjoyed by a small